Did you know that lemons prevent highway deaths?

So the more lemons the USA imports from Mexico, fewer deaths occur on the highway. Seriously. There are stats to prove there is a correlation between lemon imports and highway deaths.

But before you start lobbying the Australian government to import Mexican lemons, we should look at where the data comes from and what it’s trying to say.

We live in a world where there is a lot of fake news and learning the difference between causation and correlation is an important step.

Causation means if X causes Y, therefore if we change X we change Y. The end result is directly related to the first event(s). Whereas correlation means the end results mimic each other. So they look like they match but it does not mean the two events are related.

A well-known example is homicide and ice cream. When murder rates increase, so do ice cream sales. Does this mean that a murder takes place and someone celebrates with ice cream? No.

  • Summer starts, therefore, ice cream sales increase.
  • Summer starts, therefore, murder rates increase.

Summer is the causation of these two events, but without that critical piece of information, media can spin it to appear as though ice cream and homicide go hand in hand.

Nowadays, we can access information instantly on a small device we carry in our pocket – but anyone can put anything up on the internet. It also seems that the best way to get people to read or click on your story is to give it a sensational headline.

So here are a few ways to spot a fake news item:

  1. Are ‘legitimate’ sites talking about it? If the BBC and CNN are covering it, then it probably really happened or is happening.
  1. Are multiple sites saying the same thing? If not, then only a few sites are making a bigger deal than it needs to be.
  1. When you do a Google search, do you have multiple sites debunking it? Then, again, a small bit of information turned into something more.
  1. Do they have references? Are they citing anyone or anything that is known as reliable and/or has integrity?
  1. Finally, how do you feel? Fake news is designed to evoke certain feelings – particularly, feelings of fear and loss of control.  They want you to keep reading/clicking to get ‘more information’.

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